The US announced on Monday that gay and lesbian Americans with spouses from abroad will be allowed to apply for green cards while the courts decide on the matter.

The courts are considering the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act which bars the federal government from recognising same-sex couples in the US or granting them any federal benefits.

Immigration Equality, a group specialising in immigration rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, hailed the announcement by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“[The] statement is the first domino to fall for LGBT Americans with foreign national spouses,” said Rachel B. Tiven, the group’s executive director.

Last week, the organisation filed a green card application on behalf of Edwin Blesch, an American citizen struggling with fading health, and Tim Smulian, his South African husband. Despite being legally married in South Africa – a marriage recognised in Blesch’s home state of New York – the couple has struggled to remain together.

The couple welcomed the US government’s latest announcement. “Every day, we live with the very real possibility that, despite following every law and every policy of the United States, Tim will be forced to leave the country, and I will be left without my caretaker and the love of my life,” Blesch said in a statement.

“Today’s news gives us great relief, and great hope that we may soon be able to put that worry behind us. For the first time, we can begin to plan the rest of our lives together without fear that we will be torn apart.”

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